Knife Review: Benchmade Mini Griptillian 555-1
Tony Sculimbrene 04.30.18
How do you improve on a classic? The correct answer is always the same: very carefully.
After more than a decade of slow change (a switch from an oval thumb hole to a circle hole is the extent of it), in 2016 Benchmade revamped its flagship blades–the Griptillian and Mini Griptillian. Both were excellent before (and the Gen 1 versions are still being made), but now with a host of refinements and a steel upgrade, they are among the best folders in the world. In terms of performance, design, and materials, it is hard to outdo the 555-1. This is a long term review coming after almost two years of owning and using the 555-1. It has been a regular pocket companion in that time, probably my most frequently carried knife. In my probably too large collection of blades, all of which are great, the 555-1 stands out.
The Benchmade Mini Grip 555-1 is an updated version of the original Mini Grip. Both the Mini Grip and the full-sized version are Mel Pardue designs. The 555-1 is made in the USA. It uses an Axis lock and deploys via a circular thumb hole. The knife is a midsized knife with a 2.91 inch blade of 20CV steel.
The knife is heavier than the original, opting for solid gray and blue G10 scales over the Grivory originals. Despite dropping the hollow handles, the 555-1 still weighs under 3 ounces, coming in at 2.88 ounces. While the blade is nearly 3 inches, the handle itself is very space efficient, giving the knife a closed length of 3.87 inches. The 555-1 sports a new clip design, one that is compatible with Benchmade’s three hole set up but still carries deep thanks to an over the top design.
In the two years that I have had this knife have I done everything with it that you’d do with a folder. It has done a ton of food prep, lots and lots of box busting and opening. It has also done real work outdoors, handling every camp chore and fire prep task you can think of other than batonning. It has also done quite a bit of household maintenance chores. The knife has scraped off paint and varnish, scored and marked wood for use during woodworking projects. In short, if you do it with a folder, the 555-1 has done it.
Mel Pardue’s original design is still very much present in the 555-1 and for good reason–that design is one of the best in the world. The handle has a real palm swell and plenty of jimping, making it an ideal folder for long-term use.
The blade shape, a modified sheepsfoot design is one of my two favorite in the production world (see also: Spyderco leaf shape). There is quite a bit of meat behind the tip and the knife still has an excellent belly. While the thumbstud version is fine, the use of a thumb hole provides unimpeded cutting throughout the entire length of the blade and, is, in my opinion, always easier to use. The Axis lock and thumb stud make the 555-1 100% ambidextrous.
The upgrades here are many and all are great. First, the old steel 154CM is fine, but there are better steels out there and the choice of 20CV is inspired. Similar to M390, 20CV is an exceptional all around performer, but I have found it a bit easier to sharpen compared to the M390. I had no issue with the allegedly hollow feeling handle, but the G10 does feel better. It also has less sharp texturing, which prevents pocket and hand shredding. I also like the over the top clip design. The 555-1 is truly buried when in your pocket. Each and every upgrade choice was perfect.
In addition to better materials on top of a superior design, the 555-1 is the best made Benchmade I have ever owned. For a while Benchmade’s fit and finish had slipped, as I experienced on my 940-1, but my 555-1 was stunningly well made. The edge was great out of the box, the finishing on the blade was excellent and the grind was immaculate–straight, thin, and symmetrical. The real step up here was the Axis lock’s fit and finish. This is the first Axis lock I have had that exhibited zero blade play and a smooth deployment. It used to be that you had to choose, but now you get both (as you always should have). Perhaps it is the extra capacity Benchmade added to their factory or a new CNC. Whatever the reason, the 555-1 is a sterling example of mass production craftsmanship.
The 555-1 is pricey, around $170-$200. But it is a great design and worth the money. If you want something a bit fancier and nicer get a Sebenza, but even then, thanks to the new, more refined build quality, I am not sure if the extra dough is proportional to the increase in fit and finish.
For me, this is the final rational step in terms of spending money for additional performance and better materials. The 555-1 is also a sign that Benchmade listens. Each and every complaint people had with the original Mini Grip has been addressed. The result is an instant classic, a benchmark in production knives, and an EDC you will love.